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The guilt of commodifying your play
Depicting a real and repeating mental narrative around making hobbies into work.
Part of Ranked is about divorcing value from winning or losing; part of that is speaking to the ability to play (in general) independent of results.
Enjoying the act of playing-for-the-sake-of-it seems paramount to success, mostly because it maintains your drive: if your continued enjoyment depends on something you can't always control (winning/losing), you may lose drive due to lack of that reward circuit.
Ironically, that mindset also makes achieving success more difficult, because you need to ensure that you're going to be able to try for long enough for momentum to take hold. I've referred to this in casual conversation as the "beginning black hole", because you likely haven't done enough to start getting motivating feedback.
If you're someone who's further encouraged by momentum, you need something that keeps you showing up during those initial stages where you're still otherwise clumsy. Enjoyment of the thing you're doing helps to fill in that gap.
I say this mostly because I'm trying to detangle the "just do it because you enjoy it" vs "turning something into a project," and I think I've been struggling with that conflict for a long time. I mention it as detangling because there's always some validity to how I'm approaching things — it's never black or white.
For instance, take these media threads I've been doing.
I've never been a big TV guy. I mostly don't like to sit down on a couch and focus on watching something; this might have something to do with my ADHD. Lately I've found that the treadmill is a "good enough" situation.
So I've broken out of my shell and watched The Orville, two seasons of Twin Peaks, random episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and a little bit of The X-Files. Inspired by a friend of mine, I've started experimenting with Mastodon to have "watch threads" where I screencap moments from an episode, post it in a message, and then have my own commentary on top of it.
This is very similar to the original, forum "Let's Plays" that preceded the explosion of the format on video. It's also a way for people who've seen the stuff I'm seeing already to be entertained by someone seeing it for the first time; I also like how Mastodon has proper image/text spoilers, unlike Twitter.
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I started doing this for my experience with Final Fantasy XIV's Endwalker expansion, precisely because people on my Twitter might not have played it yet, and I didn't want to spoil anyone. Then I started with TNG episodes, and The X-Files. I created a landing page for them. I started turning the X-Files ones into proper blog posts on my Tumblr.
It led to me kind of catching myself on a couple different things. My internal dialog went like this:
“When you started this Substack, I wanted it to be a place for all of my work. You wanted to focus your work and not spread yourself too thin, with too many projects. What happened to that?”
“Why are the watch threads keeping you from watching a new episode? Why do you feel a pressure to keep them updated?”
“Was it a bad idea to do this kind of thing in the first place? Are you capable of enjoying something without trying to commodify the experience into something that has to be refined into content and shared?”
All those things seem like pretty difficult questions, and ones that don't give myself a lot of compassion at the same time. They put an amount of blame on myself for apparently gravitating towards something that was interesting, even if I didn’t exactly have specific goals in doing so — in other words, play.
There's reasons I want to do these things, and reasons why they're good things, instead of just "evidence you aren't sticking to your goals."
I want to be able to explore and play with new forms of communication; watch threads (and microblog threads in general) are becoming their own emerging art form with their own rhythm.
I want to be able to share something authentic that I find fun.
It doesn't feel like an extra burden to produce these kind of things, until I make them into burdens.
I want to be able to mess around with different platforms (Tumblr, Mastodon) instead of letting them be stagnant. Even if I said "I want everything to be found on my Substack", I feel like fuckaround projects like those are still necessary.
I want to be able to explore in-the-moment thoughts about these kind of things, especially if I don't have people in my immediate friend network to be sounding boards.
If I'm doing this "for the play", and have no expectations, I think this process only became difficult when I started adding layers of obligation. These threads, at the very least, can be expressions of playing with format, intent and style.
The other voice
So, okay, I’ve thought about this a little bit and determined that I’m not actively doing anything wrong by experimenting with something.
What remains is the voice that led me to think that I was: where did that come from? What led me to that mental place?
I think that the idea of falling into a habit of commodifying your play/passions is something the Internet drives really hard; this goes double when you’re unemployed, and you feel like you’re grasping for something — anything — to get ahead.
I’ll be exploring more of it in the future, but I think this is a good place to leave off. I’m going to be doing some note-taking around a really interesting video I watched last week, which will probably be the base of a number of posts to come.
Bye for now; would love to hear what you think in the comments.